Seventh-day Adventist Church

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The Seventh-day Adventist Church is a Christian denomination that arose in the United States in the mid-19th century; the vast majority of its membership today is outside the U.S. It observes Saturday, not Sunday, as the Sabbath; believes that the Second Coming of Christ will occur soon; and is deeply involved in medical education and missionary work.

History

The church's roots were in the Millerite movement, led by Baptist lay preacher William Miller, who predicted that the Second Coming of Christ would occur on Yom Kippur, the Jewish Day of Atonement (October 22), 1844. When the date passed without incident, some of Miller’s followers re-interpreted his prediction as meaning that Christ had, on that date, entered “the Most Holy of the heavenly sanctuary” where he would begin the mystical process that would eventually result in the Second Coming. This group, which also observed Saturday (the seventh day of the week) instead of Sunday as the Sabbath, became more formally organized during the years 1859-1863, choosing the name “Seventh-day Adventist Church” (which is now a registered trademark). [1]

One of the most prominent leaders was Ellen Gould White (née Harmon; 1827-1915), whom the church recognized as having a “gift of prophecy” that confirmed the church’s status as the “remnant” of believers – the term comes from Revelation 12:17 – that is, the few who truly keep God’s commandments in the world’s end times. Her prophecies also led the church to take up worldwide proselytization, medical education missionary work, and vegetarianism. White’s prophetic role, however, along with other differences, made some other Christians wary of Adventists, with some of them regarding the church as a “cult” rather than as a fellow Christian denomination.

Another early Adventist leader, though he broke with the church later, was John Harvey Kellogg. The brother of breakfast-cereal manufacturer W. K. Kellogg, he helped establish an Adventist sanatorium in Battle Creek, Michigan, in 1866, where the church also established a medical missionary college in 1895. But John Kellogg, a spiritual seeker who disagreed with much Adventist orthodoxy including White’s prophetic role, was “disfellowshipped” by the church in 1906.

Kellogg retained legal control over what had been the church’s medical and educational institutions in Battle Creek and elsewhere, so in 1909 the church founded a new medical school under its own control in Southern California, which has grown into the present-day Loma Linda University. The Loma Linda brand of food products such as vegetarian “sausage” and “bacon” also traces its ancestry to this period of the church’s history (although after several changes of ownership over the years, the brand is, coincidentally, now owned by the Kellogg company).

Current beliefs

Beginning in the 1960s, some Adventist scholars had begun to point out what they said were historical and scientific inaccuracies, as well as possible plagiarism, in White’s prophecies, leading to a downplaying of some of the differences and a lessening of tensions between Adventism and other evangelical Protestant denominations.

In the late 20th and early 21st centuries the church has also moved closer to other evangelistic denominations by de-emphasizing strict, legalistic obedience to biblical commandments as the way to salvation in favor of justification by faith. [2] It still, however, observes Saturday as the Sabbath, advocates avoidance of foods classified as unclean in the Bible (so that even non-vegetarian Adventists still refrain from, e.g., pork and shrimp), and teaches that there is no soul independent of the body and no Hell, but rather, that the dead are in a state of unconsciousness from which they will be reanimated either at the Second Coming (in the case of the “righteous”) or at the end of the world a thousand years later (in the case of the unrighteous, after which they will be permanently annihilated). [3] It has also reaffirmed, in 2004, its official belief in a literal six-day creation and a rejection of evolutionary explanations of life. [4]

Footnotes

  1. Much of this historical overview is based on information in Jonathan M. Butler, Ronald L. Numbers, and Gary G. Land, "Seventh-day Adventism," in Encyclopedia of Religion, ed. Lindsay Jones, 2nd ed, Vol. 12 (Detroit: Macmillan Reference USA, 2005), pp. 8235-8238; online in Gale Virtual Reference Library, http://go.galegroup.com/ps/i.do?&id=GALE%7CCX3424502801&v=2.1&u=san53620&it=r&p=GVRL&sw=w , accessed 29 Oct. 2010; and Anne D. Jordan, The Seventh-day Adventists (New York: Hippocrene, 1988).
  2. Butler et al., op. cit.
  3. Seventh-day Adventist Church, “Fundamental Beliefs” (orig. 1980, rev. 2005). http://www.adventist.org/beliefs/fundamental/index.html. Accessed 29 October 2010.
  4. Seventh-day Adventist Church, Organizing Committee of the International Faith & Science Conferences 2002-2004, “An Affirmation of Creation.” http://adventist.org/beliefs/statements/main-stat54.html. Accessed 29 October 2010.